When Our Secretary of Education Chooses to Remain Uneducated About Public Education

From last Sunday’s interview with Betsy DeVos by Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes:

Betsy DeVos: We have invested billions and billions and billions of dollars from the federal level And we have seen zero results.

Lesley Stahl: But that really isn’t true. Test scores have gone up over the last 25 years. So why do you keep saying nothing’s been accomplished?

Betsy DeVos: Well actually, test scores vis-à-vis the rest of the world have not gone up. And we have continued to be middle of the pack at best. That’s just not acceptable.

Lesley Stahl: No it’s not acceptable. But it’s better than it was. That’s the point. You don’t acknowledge that things have gotten better. You won’t acknowledge that, over the–

Betsy DeVos: But I don’t think they have for too many kids. We’ve stagnated.

The embarrassment of that entire interview could be felt by even DeVos’s most ardent detractors, but the amount of tweets that DeVos sent the following two or three days were nothing more than damage control.

She tweeted four original tweets on March 12th. Ten on March 13th. Three on March 14th.

devos tweets

But it was a tweet from a week before that DeVos alluded to in her interview with Stahl that shows DeVos’s purposeful ignorance of what really happens in public education.

Simply put, DeVos is and has chosen to remain uneducated about education.

Here it is:

devos tweets 2

That’s in reference to the test commonly referred to as the PISA. What DeVos gets wrong is that we as a country are not average. We actually do very well when one considers the very things that DeVos is blind to: income gaps, social inequality, and child poverty.

Bob Herbert wrote an iconic book published in 2014 called Losing Our Way. He explored three different facets of our country that are foundational but are deteriorating because we as a country are not investing in truly remedying them but rather politicizing them. One he talks about is public education.

In the chapter “Poverty and Education”, Herbert discusses a study by Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnroy entitled “What do international tests really show about U. S. student performance?” Published by the Economic Policy Institute, the researchers (as Herbert explains on page 155 of his book), “made a detailed study of the backgrounds of the test takers in an extensive database compiled by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

From that actual report (and I would encourage any reader to take a look):

Because social class inequality is greater in the United States than in any of the countries with which we can reasonably be compared, the relative performance of U.S. adolescents is better than it appears when countries’ national average performance is conventionally compared.

  • Because in every country, students at the bottom of the social class distribution perform worse than students higher in that distribution, U.S. average performance appears to be relatively low partly because we have so many more test takers from the bottom of the social class distribution.
  • A sampling error in the U.S. administration of the most recent international (PISA) test resulted in students from the most disadvantaged schools being over-represented in the overall U.S. test-taker sample. This error further depressed the reported average U.S. test score.
  • If U.S. adolescents had a social class distribution that was similar to the distribution in countries to which the United States is frequently compared, average reading scores in the United States would be higher than average reading scores in the similar post-industrial countries we examined (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), and average math scores in the United States would be about the same as average math scores in similar post-industrial countries.
  • A re-estimated U.S. average PISA score that adjusted for a student population in the United States that is more disadvantaged than populations in otherwise similar post-industrial countries, and for the over-sampling of students from the most-disadvantaged schools in a recent U.S. international assessment sample, finds that the U.S. average score in both reading and mathematics would be higher than official reports indicate (in the case of mathematics, substantially higher).
  • This re-estimate would also improve the U.S. place in the international ranking of all OECD countries, bringing the U.S. average score to sixth in reading and 13th in math. Conventional ranking reports based on PISA, which make no adjustments for social class composition or for sampling errors, and which rank countries irrespective of whether score differences are large enough to be meaningful, report that the U.S. average score is 14th in reading and 25th in math.
  • Disadvantaged and lower-middle-class U.S. students perform better (and in most cases, substantially better) than comparable students in similar post-industrial countries in reading. In math, disadvantaged and lower-middle-class U.S. students perform about the same as comparable students in similar post-industrial countries.
  • At all points in the social class distribution, U.S. students perform worse, and in many cases substantially worse, than students in a group of top-scoring countries (Canada, Finland, and Korea). Although controlling for social class distribution would narrow the difference in average scores between these countries and the United States, it would not eliminate it.
  • U.S. students from disadvantaged social class backgrounds perform better relative to their social class peers in the three similar post-industrial countries than advantaged U.S. students perform relative to their social class peers. But U.S. students from advantaged social class backgrounds perform better relative to their social class peers in the top-scoring countries of Finland and Canada than disadvantaged U.S. students perform relative to their social class peers.
  • On average, and for almost every social class group, U.S. students do relatively better in reading than in math, compared to students in both the top-scoring and the similar post-industrial countries.

Because not only educational effectiveness but also countries’ social class composition changes over time, comparisons of test score trends over time by social class group provide more useful information to policymakers than comparisons of total average test scores at one point in time or even of changes in total average test scores over time.

  • The performance of the lowest social class U.S. students has been improving over time, while the performance of such students in both top-scoring and similar post-industrial countries has been falling.
  • Over time, in some middle and advantaged social class groups where U.S. performance has not improved, comparable social class groups in some top-scoring and similar post-industrial countries have had declines in performance.

The entire report can be found here: https://www.epi.org/publication/us-student-performance-testing/.

DeVos should maybe take a look at that report. In fact, she should read Bob Herbert’s book.




I Just Became the Father of a Child With Autism

Actually, I have been his father and dad for over ten years.

But this past week, our family received a diagnosis that our son has autism. So now we are a family with an autistic child who happens to have Down Syndrome. Or we have a child who just happens to have both Down Syndrome and autism.

Or we have a child whose name is Malcolm who chooses not to be defined by terms, so we shouldn’t define him with labels or a diagnosis.

I like that last one the best.

Maybe what we received this past week is a huge clue and more answers than we had in how to best approach helping, nurturing, communicating with, and advocating for Malcolm.

One of the greatest gifts that someone can give to another is an unabashed and honest view of the world that the other did not know through another set of eyes and filters.

If you are around Malcolm, you might immediately sense his acute ability to be in the present time. He is not consumed with what happened in the past or what might happen in the future. He is totally grounded in the now. I envy that. And he is very open with his view of the world and how he sees things.

But there were some behaviors that his mother and I could not really understand under the scope of someone who has Down Syndrome. So we explored. We questioned. We wrestled. We asked for help.

And we found out something.

I would be untruthful if I did not say that I am still a little in surreal shock. But I would also not be truthful if I did not say that there is a lot of relief. DS-ASD is very real. DS-ASD is Down Syndrome – Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I feel like I just got to know my kid a little better, and I think we got another clue in how he views the world and filters what he actualizes.

He’s still Malcolm.

Think of it this way: we just got handed the actual prescription of another lens that he uses to sense his world.  A better idea of what might be happening. And a better idea of how we might be able to help him make sure that he is as comfortable in this world as he can be.


It’s like we found the “bright” setting for the headlights while driving and we can see a little more of the road, but more of the surrounding area. The more we see, the more we know is around us.

So what do we do as parents? More of the same in many respects. We love him actively. We remove obstacles when we can and help him overcome his own obstacles. We research and be inquisitive. We explore avenues that may hold keys to helping him.

And we advocate like any parent would for his or her own child.

This kid did not change because of a diagnosis. He still wants to get doughnuts, swim at the Y, go to West Forsyth to see his favorite people, pet his dog, watch his movies, play basketball at weird hours of the day and night, and ask for a hug.

Same kid.

With more aware parents.




Local Supplements Mean More Than You Think

North Carolina can make the claim that the average teacher salary is over $50,000 / year. That is at least until it gets rid of its veteran teachers.

T. Keung Hui’s report for McClatchy Regional News entitled “N.C. teachers are now averaging more than $50,000 a year” clearly shows that average salary is being bolstered by the very people that the NC General Assembly wants to rid the state of: veteran teachers with due-process rights.

Hui, the venerable education reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer, begins:

The average salary for a North Carolina teacher has increased to more than $50,000 a year for the first time.

Recently released figures from the state Department of Public Instruction put the average salary for a North Carolina public school teacher at $51,214 this school year. That’s $1,245 more than the previous school year.

The $50,000 benchmark has been a major symbolic milestone, with Republican candidates having campaigned in 2016 about how that figure had already been reached. Democrats argued that the $50,000 mark hadn’t been reached yet and that Republicans hadn’t done enough, especially for highly experienced teachers.

The average teacher salary has risen 12 percent over the past five years, from $45,737 a year. Since taking control of the state legislature in 2011, Republicans raised the starting base salary for new teachers to $35,000 and gave raises to other teachers (http://www.journalnow.com/news/state_region/n-c-teachers-are-now-averaging-more-than-a-year/article_e3fe232c-1332-5f6e-89e5-de7c428436fb.html ).

There’s a term in that statement upon which the truth really hinges. Do not mind that the average pay will decrease over time as the highest salary a new teacher could make in the new budget is barely over 50k. That is fodder for another argument like this one, /https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/07/17/the-ignoramasaurus-rex-how-gov-mccrorys-claim-on-average-teacher-pay-is-not-really-real/ .

The term I am referring to is “local supplement.”

You may be wondering, “What the hell is that?” Well, a local supplement is an additional amount of money that a local district may apply on top the state’s salary to help attract teachers to come and stay in a particular district. While people may be fixated on actual state salary schedule, a local supplement has more of a direct effect on the way a district can attract and retain teachers, especially in this legislative climate.

My own district, the Winston-Salem /Forsyth County Schools, currently ranks in the teens in the state with local supplements. Our neighbor, Guilford County, ranks much higher.

Arika Herron’s, the former education reporter in my town talked about in the August 7th, 2016 edition of the Winston-Salem Journal the effect of local supplements. The article “Schools looking for ways to cut spending, boost salaries” defines teacher supplements as a way “to improve teacher recruitment and retention.” It also talks about how it is viewed in the eyes of teachers and elected officials. Take a look at some of the quotes ( http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/schools-looking-for-ways-to-cut-spending-boost-salaries/article_f487023a-9aec-52a3-b084-20e0bf323091.html?mode=image&photo=).

Trey Ferguson is a younger teacher from Wake County.

Trey Ferguson said salary supplements were a huge factor when he and his wife were looking for their first teaching jobs three years ago.

An N.C. State graduate, Ferguson said they looked in the areas where both he and his wife grew up, but local salary supplements didn’t compare to what Wake County Public Schools were offering.

Jim Brooks is a veteran teacher in Wilkes County.

For veteran teachers, the supplements can be viewed differently. Because the supplements have to come from local funds — those provided by local governments through taxes — supplements can also be seen as a measure of community support, said Jim Brooks, 31-year teaching veteran with Wilkes County Schools.

Brooks said that while salary supplements weren’t something he considered when looking for his first job and are not enough to draw him away from the home he’s made in Wilkes County, they can be a way that teachers get a sense of their value in a community.”

“It’s kind of saying, ‘We value the work you do; We want to go beyond how the state compensates you,’” he said.

One board member here in WSFCS, Lori Goins Clark, says,

“We need to do better for our teachers. They don’t get paid enough to do one of the hardest jobs there is in the world.

Another board member, Elisabeth Motsinger, expressed a different angle.

Board member Elisabeth Motsinger questioned whether the district’s other efforts to recruit and retain teachers, like more professional development opportunities and new teacher-leader initiatives, might be more meaningful than a modest supplement increase that equates to less than $10 each month.

But it is the next quote from Motsinger that really helps to shed light on the discussion concerning local supplements.

“The reason Wake has such huge supplements is they ask taxpayers to pay higher taxes,” she said. “That money has to come from somewhere and somewhere means taxes.”

She said the dreaded word – “taxes.” All of a sudden the local supplement becomes a burden.

In reality, professional development opportunities are always available. They have to be in order for teachers to remain certified. Also, in the past, professional development opportunities were given with stipends because they were conducted outside of school hours and contract times. That required money.

I would be interested in what Motsinger means by “teacher-leader” initiatives, but if it means “merit pay,” it will require much more explanation and buy-in. And money. Besides local and state leaders would need to be willing get out of the way of teachers when these initiatives are brought to light, and there is not a record of allowing educational professionals to have a vital role in initiatives within this state these past ten years.

What gets twisted here is that in creating local supplements for teachers many mitigating factors come into light and when North Carolina began bragging about the new average salary it was telling you that Raleigh was placing more of a burden on local districts to create a positive spin on GOP policies in an election year.

The past few budgets that were passed cut monies to the Department of Public Instruction, therefore limiting DPI’s abilities to disperse ample amounts of money to local county and city districts. When local central offices have less money to work with, they then have to prioritize their needs to match their financial resources.

It is not just about whether to have a couple of program managers for the district. It’s about whether to allow class sizes to be bigger so that more reading specialists can be put into third grade classes, or more teacher assistants to help special needs kids like mine succeed in lower grades. Or even physical resources like software and desks.

What the current GOP-led NCGA did was to create a situation where local districts had to pick up more of the tab to fund everyday public school functions.

What adds to this is that this governing body is siphoning more and more tax money to entities like charter schools, Opportunity Grants, an ISD district, and other privatizing efforts. Just look at the amount of money the state has spent on private lawyer fees to defend indefensible measures like HB2, the Voter ID law, and redistricting maps?

But back to this word “tax” used by Motsinger. What she should have said is “investment in our teachers.” Look at the stats concerning local supplements that Herron included in her report. Wake ranked the highest, Guilford County was sixth, and WSFCS was 19th.

But this is telling.


These differences can add up. For a younger teacher, that can swing a decision. And we in WSFCS get a lot of teacher candidates. Look at the teacher preparation programs that surround us – Wake Forest, Winston-Salem State, Salem College, App State, and UNCG just to name a few that actually place student teachers in my school, West Forsyth.

For a veteran teacher like myself, a competitive local supplement could mean that I feel valued by the very system that still lacks enough teachers to start the school year fully staffed.

So, what can a district’s community do to help teachers come and stay in a particular district?

  • They can look at local supplements as a way of investing rather than being taxed.
  • They can go and vote for candidates on the state level who support public education.
  • They can go and vote for county commissioners who are committed to helping fully fund public schools.
  • And they can go and investigate how all of the financing of schools works. It is not as black and white as some may believe it is. Rather it is very much interconnected.

The current culture in our state has not been very kind to public school teachers. Competitive local supplements could go a long way in showing value in public schools.

About That NC Teacher Working Conditions Survey – The Glaring Disconnect Between the NCGA and Reality

The North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions survey is open for teachers this month. I submitted mine just this week.


The survey happens once every two years. This is the first one with Mark Johnson as the state superintendent. And I have one big (among smaller ones) complaint about the survey: it should ask teachers views not only of their school, but MORE of their perceptions of the county / LEA leadership and state leadership.

The results from the North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey from 2016 did more than demonstrate the disconnect between those who work in schools and those who want to re-form schools; they displayed that what really drives the success of a school are the people – from the students to the teachers to the administration to the support staff and the community at large.

Odds are the 2018 survey will show more of the same.

2016’s results showed that what usually causes teachers to leave North Carolina public schools either to another state or to another profession are external forces, most of which are controlled by the people convening on West Jones Street in Raleigh.

Liz Ball reported on the results of the N.C. Teacher Working Conditions Survey from the spring of 2016 in her feature on EdNC.org (“Most teachers satisfied with their schools”). According to the survey “almost 87 percent of teachers who responded are happy overall in workplace.”

That’s quite amazing. In a state where the General Assembly instituted a school grading system where an incredible amount of schools either received a rating of “D” and “F” (707 schools in 2015), a high percentage of those very teachers who work in those schools were satisfied with those schools. They witnessed something that others chose not to acknowledge – that there is so much that helps students achieve that cannot be measured by random variables.

The formula for rating schools relies heavily on standardized test scores. Yet, of the same teachers who reported an overall “positive” attitude toward their school, “only 43 percent of surveyed teachers thought state assessments accurately test students’ understanding of material.”

There’s where the detachment was evident. Those who saw schools from the inside like teachers and staff reported mostly positive culture and school success. Those who view schools through the lens of government saw schools that need re-forming.

And that lens needs a new prescription according to the last N.C. Teacher Working Conditions Survey.

Educators tend to see success and student growth as more than an arbitrary number. A multitude of criteria are used by teachers to measure growth beyond state assessments which are usually created by and graded by outside entities hired by the state.

If you want to see how well schools are performing, it probably is wiser to go to the source itself and ask the educational experts rather than ask the General Assembly or government. Why? Because when the state government controls how schools are measured, viewed, and tested, it then controls the dialogue and ultimately the outcomes.
Those outcomes then allow policies to be created that profit a select few. Think of charter school board members. Think of out-of-state virtual school companies. Think of private schools that take in Opportunity Grant money. Think of those who will control the Achievement School District.

Now consider that none of those aforementioned entities are measured by the same criteria that label some schools as failing and many great teachers as ineffective. Why? Because those outcomes can be controlled. It’s a self-fulfilled prophecy.

A couple of years ago, North Carolina earned the satirically charged, but rather adequate new title “First in Teacher Flight”. Consider that enrollment in university/college teacher preparation programs has seismically dropped and that many faculties have lost veteran teachers to early retirement and job changes. Consider that the General Assembly has really only increased pay for beginning teachers and not the veteran teachers. Consider that due process rights have been taken away from new teachers to keep them from loudly advocating for schools once they understand how the system really operates.

No wonder the two lowest scores on last year’s survey dealt with the state’s role in schools. Maybe the state could learn something from that.

Now one can see why this survey is so important. It enables every teacher to have input and it verifies the conditions that schools operate under in this state. Oddly enough, those teachers who are “satisfied” with their schools most likely understand on many levels that their schools are working well despite the forces that work against them.

Imagine the results of the survey if West Jones Street was more about removing real obstacles rather than creating them.

We Should Go Back to the 7-Period School Day

Okay. I am just going to throw this out there.

I want the seven-period school day back.


It’s better for schools.

It’s better for teachers.

But most of all, it is better for students.

Many school systems have been on a block schedule for many, many years and there are many teachers who probably love the block schedule, but if we as a country are so enamored with test scores, it does not make sense to have more kids taking more classes and therefore more tests and expect them to score more points on those tests without giving them more time.

Block classes force more students to devote less time to each class. With twenty –four hours still the span of a day, keeping up with seven classes per year as opposed to eight classes per year seems logical. That would mean more time per class to study the curriculum and to master the concepts. Furthermore, in the seven-period day, those students would take the class the entire year. That’s more opportunities for tutoring and remediation.

It allows for more continuity of classes. Core classes such as math or science may be predicated on previous material in previous classes. What if a student takes a math class in the fall of one school year, and then takes the next math in the spring of the following year? That’s a very large gap.

It makes scheduling easier. Some may effectively assert the argument that some classes could be on the A/B block which means that they would meet every other day throughout the year for a block of time. That presents more continuity, right? Not always. It is impossible to make all classes do that making scheduling a nightmare even more than it would be for just select classes using the A/B block. If all classes are offered at the same length of time for the entire year, scheduling for large schools becomes more streamlined.

If the block schedule (especially the A/B day block) is to prepare students for college, then it has missed its mark. College students tend to only take a full load of 4 classes per semester. We have students taking eight classes in an A/B block schedule at our schools, many of which are AP classes. Add some extra-curriculars and a job and lack of freedom that college students have and you have a schedule that actually seems harder to manage than a college student has.

It’s hard to keep attention spans for really long periods of time. If this post is too long, then you will not give the whole essay your attention. Sit in a meeting for more than an hour. Sit in church for more than an hour. Sit in traffic for more than an hour.

As a teacher, I want to see my students every day for the entire school year. That’s more face time and personal instruction. Instead of under 90 meetings in a school year, I would have almost 180 meetings. If my classes met every day over a year, my ability to track student progress and student achievement would be much more precise and have more historical data to measure against.

Students would have an easier time coming back from extended absences and breaks. On the A/B block that my school is on for over four weeks of time (winter holidays and exam schedule combined), a teacher may see his or her students for maybe the equivalent of 3 class periods. For true block classes that usually have those state exams used to rate schools, that means teachers see their students for maybe five class periods during that same frame. Not good.

Students would have a better shot at passing their courses the first time around. Students need 22 credits to graduate high school in NC. With the A/B day block or straight block schedule, these students have 32 possible credits they could earn. That’s a lot of wiggle room.

In essence, students in NC could fail 10 classes and still graduate in four years. A seven-period day gives students 28 credit chances, but with more time to devote to each class and more opportunities for face time with teachers and personalized instruction, plus extra calendar days for that class. It seems that it presents a better opportunity to do well in the class their first time.

Plus, students can still fail 6 classes and graduate in four years and that does not even consider credit recovery and summer school opportunities.

ACT scores and GPA now determine a student’s need for remediation (2.75 GPA and 18/22 on reading and math). With the new standards of ACT scores and GPA’s defining college prep diploma attainment, does it not make sense for students to have more time to devote to classes that comprise GPA and more extended exposure to the very subjects that the ACT tests for.

Graduation rates probably would not fall. If graduation rates are so key, then going to the 10-point scale took care of that. With a “50” being the lowest grade possible for a student to receive for a quarter score (at least in my school system) and a ten-point scale in place it means that 41 of the possible 51 quarter “averages” one could possibly obtain (60, 61, 62, … to a 100) are passing grades. Only 10 (50, 51 … to 59) are failing.

Those are just benefits for the students.

To talk of the benefits to teachers would take another entire post but it surely would talk about less teacher burnout, more opportunities to show leadership, offer more chances for collaboration, and give teachers more flexibility with duties and paperwork.

Again, that’s just a few.

The North Carolina General Assembly’s Greatest Fear – A Well-Educated General Public

(1) General and uniform system: term. The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.  – NC State Constitution.

There is one thing that the current powers in the North Carolina General Assembly fear most.

It is not unclean water.
It is not a budget deficit.
It sure as hell isn’t climate change.
It’s not even maps, although all of those weigh in the equation.

It is having a well-educated general public – one that would not allow current lawmakers to be in a position of power to continue to promote an agenda that absolutely favors a few over those they should be helping. And their actions over these last four to five years have been a recipe in ensuring their policies remain intact.

Many of those have been very apparent. There is the current debacle of gerrymandered legislative districts. Even the redrawn maps have shown a more-than-obsessive addiction to hold on to majorities in Raleigh.

There is the voter-ID law that was struck down in the judicial system. A determined effort to water down minority voices might have been one of the most open secrets in this state.

But those unconstitutional actions coincided with other egregious acts that have weakened public education to a breaking point – one that makes next year’s elections so very important. Those actions have been assaults on public schools coated with a layer of propaganda that keeps telling North Carolinians that we need to keep reforming public education.

What once was considered one of the most progressive and strongest public school systems in the South and the nation all of a sudden needed to be reformed? What necessitated that? Who made that decision? Look to the lawmakers who saw public education and the allotted budgeting for public education dictated by the state constitution as an untapped reservoir of money to funnel to private entities.

The public started to see test scores that appeared to be less than desirable even though what was being tested and the format of the testing was in constant flux.

The public started to see “school performance grades” that did nothing more than track how poverty affected student achievement. The “schools were failing” to actually help cover up what lawmakers were refusing to do to help people before they even had a chance to succeed in the classroom.

The teaching profession was beginning to be shaped by a business model that does not discern a public service from a profit minded investment scheme which changed a profession of professionals into one that favors short term contractors.

But there are two large indicators that voters in North Carolina should really pay attention to when it comes to the NCGA’s relentless pursuit to quell their fears of a well-educated general public – money spent per pupil and tuition costs to state supported universities.

Below is one of many different data tables that shows how willfully the NCGA has made sure to keep public schools from thriving (from  the NC Justice Center’s July 2016 analysis).


And how that per pupil expenditure truly affects schools becomes even clearer when you read reporting that clearly shows how funds are used (and stretched) by school systems. Take Kris Nordstrom’s piece entitled “As new school year commences, shortage of basic supplies demonstrates legislature’s failure to invest” (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/08/29/new-school-year-commences-shortage-basic-supplies-demonstrates-legislatures-failure-invest/).

This table should be easy to decipher.


Simply put, this is a great example of truth-telling and an equally fantastic exposure of the very fear that the NCGA has of thriving public schools. Nordstrom states,

“When adjusting for enrollment and inflation, school funding has been cut in the following areas since leadership of the General Assembly switched hands in 2010 (a time period in which the state was already struggling to find resources as a result of the Great Recession): classroom teachers, instructional support personnel (counselors, nurses, librarians, etc.), school building administrators (principals and assistant principals), teacher assistants, transportation, low wealth schools, disadvantaged students, central office, limited English proficiency, academically gifted, small counties, driver training, and school technology. Funding streams for teacher professional development and mentoring of beginning teachers have been eliminated completely.”

  • Don’t we have a state surplus?
  • Don’t we spend millions on validate vouchers that have shown no improvement in student outcome?
  • Don’t we spend millions in legal fees defending laws that are unconstitutional?

The answer is “YES” to all of these.

Remember, our lawmakers are bragging that we are economically thriving. So who is profiting?

The Pew Research Center for U.S. Politics & Policy conducted a national survey on the attitudes on whether higher education has had a positive or negative effect on our country (http://www.people-press.org/2017/07/10/sharp-partisan-divisions-in-views-of-national-institutions/). It’s rather disturbing.

More disturbing is that it is not surprising.


While one might think that Joel Osteen’s antics to protect his tax exempt megachurch from actually serving the Houston public in a Christ-like fashion during the devastating hurricane would change the first set of data points, it is the last category that is the focus here.

Inside Higher Ed highlighted the Pew survey. Paul Fain in his report opened up with this:

“In dramatic shift, more than half of Republicans now say colleges have a negative impact on the U.S., with wealthier, older and more educated Republicans being least positive”(https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/07/11/dramatic-shift-most-republicans-now-say-colleges-have-negative-impact).

Might want to see who controls policy in Raleigh.

And those “wealthier, older, and more educated Republicans” who are in control in Raleigh have also enabled state-supported colleges and universities to become more expensive.

At the beginning of last year, WUNC published a report called “Incoming UNC Students Likely To See Tuition Increase” (http://wunc.org/post/incoming-unc-students-likely-see-tuition-increase#stream/0). In it there is a data table that shows the steady and steep increase in tuition costs for UNC undergraduate resident tuition.


And yes, we are still a bargain compared to other states, but that is an over 70% increase that does not include housing, board, food, supplies, books, travel, and all of the other expenses sure to accompany a college experience.

Is it supposed to make sense that rising tuition costs should accompany lower per-pupil expenditure in public secondary schools all the while boasting of a state surplus in a state that currently has racially gerrymandered legislative districts and an increased investment in a rather robust effort to privatize public schools?

Apparently “yes” to many in Raleigh.

Which is why they say “no” so often to people.

“At” The Table or “On” the Table – The Need for Teacher Input in Educational “Reform”

You can be either “at” the table or “on” the table.

For teachers in North Carolina, there are many other prepositions that could identify the relationship between the legislation process and teacher input such as “under” the table, “without” a place at the table, or “behind” the table.


As a veteran public school teacher, when I see entities like BEST NC or other “business-minded” reformers defending or lauding a piece of legislation, I take it with a grain of salt.

Actually, it’s an entire salt block.

Aside from the glowing generalities that sprinkle the rhetoric of many a reformer, I could not help but think that so many other “innovations” that have been created and enacted in North Carolina, they lack a crucial and vital component: teacher input.


Think of  those “new and pioneering solutions” that include the new principal pay plan, the rise of charter schools, the expansion of vouchers, the gutting and rebirth of a distant relative in the Teaching Fellows Program, and much more.

They all have one thing in common: no teacher input.

When the NC General Assembly went into GOP hands and McCrory came to the governor’s mansion, the process of “reforming” education began in earnest. There was the removal of due-process rights, the removal of graduate degree pay, Standard 6, push for merit pay, bonus pay, removal of longevity pay, removal of class size caps and then the placing of class size caps without funds to hire extra teachers or build extra classrooms, etc.

The list goes on.

Were there any teachers involved in these reforms? Any teacher advocacy groups consulted? Any way a teacher could chime in?

Those are not rhetorical questions. And considering that the current General Assembly seems bent upon diluting the voice of groups like NCAE, it should not be a stretch to realize that teachers are not consulted when it comes to schools.

The Report on Education Legislation from the 2017 Session of the General Assembly released by DPI and the State Board has a list of all of the bills that were passed that in one way or another affect public education.

From pages 4 and 5.

Bills 2Bills 1

Excluding the “local bills,” how many of those bills and “reforms” had teacher input? How many of those initiatives had any consideration from teachers and asked for contributions from public school educators?

Look at SB599. Sen. Chad Barefoot’s idea of streamlining the teacher recruitment process literally allows for teachers to enter the profession with very little preparation. Was there teacher input?

Again, not a rhetorical question. And do not let it be lost in the world of sadistic irony that Barefoot was the chief champion of the newest version of the Teacher Fellows Program.

When education reformers try and push their agendas can they actually really claim that they have extended relationships with actual teachers and teacher groups?

I do not think so. And that resembles the modus operandi of the NC General Assembly who even this past year crafted in a special session the very “laws” (like HB17) currently debated in courts that would enable a man with hardly any educational experience to run without checks and balances the entire public school system.

And the very criteria that measure teacher effectiveness and school performance are established and constantly changed by that same body of lawmakers without teacher input will always translate into a narrative that reform is always needed.

At one time we as a state led the nation in educational innovation.

We sure did. We were considered one of the most progressive public education state systems in the country.

But that was before teachers were not allowed to be “at” the table any longer.

If You Are A Parent or Advocate of a Special Needs Child in NC Public Schools Then Read This

The state’s funding formula does not adjust for the severity of a disability; there is a flat rate provided for each child, in spite of the fact that the cost per year for a student with profound needs can skyrocket to as high as $100,000 or more.

The above excerpt is from Lindsay Wagner’s report in EdNC.org called “In North Carolina, funding gaps are shortchanging students with special needs” (https://www.ednc.org/2018/03/12/north-carolina-funding-gaps-shortchanging-students-special-needs/).

Read it. That’s right. I used the imperative mood to tell you to read that report.

It can be a rather confusing effort for parents of children with special needs to make sure their children are served well when considering IEP’s, school placement, resources, medical priorities, and other matters.

For a parent like me who is the father of a child with Down Syndrome and a public high school teacher it can be very frustrating. I know the limitations of funding in schools just for typical students. I write about that on this blog almost every week.

But I am a parent foremost. And like any parent, I will fight for what my child needs and is entitled to by law, specifically the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

North Carolina has started what is called the Personal Education Savings Account (PESA). It allows parents of a special needs child to receive up to $9,000 in public money on a debit card to pay for services, tutoring, or tuition at a private school.

Personally, it might be the most unregulated voucher offered in this state. And don’t get me wrong, Malcolm could use the money with his therapy and other resources that he needs. But this money comes at the expense of other special needs students who are in public schools. Why?

Read Lindsay Wagner’s article – https://www.ednc.org/2018/03/12/north-carolina-funding-gaps-shortchanging-students-special-needs/. I think it is mandatory to see how much these programs really do not work in a state that refuses to even fully fund schools for traditional students.

Besides, there are no other schools for my son. He actually “wrote” a letter to Betsy DeVos (with my help) last year explaining that he needed traditional public schools to be fully funded for all students, no matter the special needs.

He said,

“When I got ready to go to school a few years ago, one of my grandparents offered to pay tuition at any school that could help me the most, but none around here would take me because I have a certain type of developmental delay. Doesn’t seem like I had much choice.

But the public schools welcomed me with open arms. And I am learning because of the good teachers and the teacher assistants. Imagine what could happen if my school could have every resource to accommodate my needs.

When people in power have taken away resources, teacher assistants and forced local school systems to make due with less money, then all students, especially students like me, are not being helped as much. And it’s not our teachers’ fault. It’s the fault of those who control what we get.

You and Mr. Trump control a lot of what we get.

My family is very aware of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It says that I am entitled by law to a sound and quality public education that will work to overcome my obstacles like any other student. We were surprised that you were not aware of IDEA when you were asked earlier this year. That law is my lifeline. And there are many students who do not have the advantages that I have. Some have more obstacles and more physical hurdles to overcome. They really need for you to step up for them. Part of your job is to protect that law.

But this budget that you seem to like does not really help to strengthen that.

The Individual Education Plan that I have that my school and parents put together is backed by federal law. That means that you are supposed to protect it.

But this budget and your actions do not seem to want to honor that (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/07/17/dear-secretary-devos-from-malcolm-a-special-normal-public-school-kid/). 

Again, Wagner gives a vivid picture of what funding gaps we really have in NC.

Read it.

I think about this stuff all of the time.

Because this kid is mine.





The Fear, Ignorance, and Unwillingness of Betsy DeVos

“I have not– I have not– I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.” – Betsy DeVos, March 11, 2018 on 60 Minutes.

In one part of the disastrous interview that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos did with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes, DeVos revealed what many public school advocates have been screaming about for over a year – DeVos has no concept of what public schooling is really about.

Below is the transcript of that segment.

Lesley Stahl: Okay. But what about the kids who are back at the school that’s not working? What about those kids?

Betsy DeVos: Well, in places where there have been– where there is– a lot of choice that’s been introduced– Florida, for example, the– studies show that when there’s a large number of students that opt to go to a different school or different schools, the traditional public schools actually– the results get better, as well.

Lesley Stahl: Now, has that happened in Michigan? We’re in Michigan. This is your home state.

Betsy DeVos: Michi–Yes, well, there’s lots of great options and choices for students here.

Lesley Stahl: Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?

Betsy DeVos: I don’t know. Overall, I– I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better.

Lesley Stahl: The whole state is not doing well.

Betsy DeVos: Well, there are certainly lots of pockets where this– the students are doing well and–

Lesley Stahl: No, but your argument that if you take funds away that the schools will get better, is not working in Michigan where you had a huge impact and influence over the direction of the school system here.

Betsy DeVos: I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of individual students attending them.

Lesley Stahl: The public schools here are doing worse than they did.

Betsy DeVos: Michigan schools need to do better. There is no doubt about it.

Lesley Stahl: Have you seen the really bad schools? Maybe try to figure out what they’re doing?

Betsy DeVos: I have not– I have not– I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.

Lesley Stahl: Maybe you should.

Betsy DeVos: Maybe I should. Yes.

It is no secret that DeVos favors school choice, charter schools, and vouchers for private and parochial schools. But what many who may have voted for her boss may not realize is that DeVos ignores what is happening to the traditional public schools that service over 90% of our nation’s students.

Stahl pressed her on that. A good journalist would. Stahl is more than a good journalist. 60 Minutes is more than a good show. It is in its 40th year – same time slot, same network, same night.

Think about when DeVos says, “I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of individual students attending them.”

Actually, schools are really communities, but if anyone has “generalized schools,” it has been DeVos. The day of the 60 Minutes interview, DeVos had more than usual activity on her Twitter account. Maybe knowing her words from the interview were not as stellar as she would have hoped, she may have tried to lessen the blowback with this tweet.


Look at that map more closely.

school visits

She seems to really like Indianapolis, Washington D.C., and southern Florida. Rather, she likes to go where Mike Pence did more to privatize schools than most any governor in recent history. She likes to go to Florida where there is an abundance of “school choice” endeavors. She also likes the D.C. area that is still reeling from the Michelle Rhee high-stakes testing and value-added frenzy.

DeVos also tweeted on that day the following:

DeVos tweet 2

DeVos has been in office for a little over a year. But her efforts to reform education in Michigan have been happening for years

Part of Stahl’s interview focused on Michigan, a state where DeVos not only hails from but has used as an experimental lab for her amorphous policies. DeVos could not even talk about how well Michigan was doing. She surely would like to be able to brag about Michigan but good journalism sometimes gets in the way.

From the Detroit Free Press in a report entitled “Michigan test score gains worst in nation” from Feb. of 2017:

A new analysis of results of a national educational test shows Michigan students have continually made the least improvement nationally of scores since 2003.

The study, by University of Michigan professor Brian A. Jacob, of scores of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), also found that Michigan students were at the bottom of the list when it comes to proficiency growth in the four measures of the exam (https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2017/02/20/michigan-test-score-gains-worst-nation/98144368/).

That lack of growth in a state where DeVos already has been enacting the policies that she is trying to force on the country? From a person who admittedly does not want to visit “underperforming” schools?

There could be a variety of reasons why DeVos does not want to visit what she terms to be underperforming schools. She could deathly afraid of what she perceives they may be like. She is afraid that she would have to answer questions on why many are so underfunded. She would have to display a knowledge of education to offer some sort of leadership to help those schools that she obviously does not have.

Or it could be all of those. Plus others.

But maybe the most obvious reason could be that she does not really know how to measure schools. If what she claims are the necessary ingredients for good equitable schools have not been working in her home state as she thinks they have, then how could she even begin to understand the dynamics of “underperforming” schools.

Ignorance and a fear of engaging authentically with people will make even the most educated of people unable to be authentic educators. And the national leader in education should be more than willing to go into any school.

But Betsy DeVos is no leader.

She sure as hell is no educator.

A Big Can of Canned Answers – That Betsy DeVos Interview on 60 Minutes

Leslie Stahl presented a segment on Betsy DeVos.

Stahl’s overview of DeVos, her questions, and the canned answers that DeVos gave in response are worth viewing even if it makes you cringe a little.


The link also has a transcript.